Release Date: Jun 15, 2018
Record label: Future Classic
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
In pop music, it is a tried and tested recipe for success to write lyrics that are specific enough to pull the listener in but vague enough to feel universal. This formula has served the likes of Max Martin, Rodney Jerkins and Brian Higgins very well over the years, but the fascinating thing about pop ballad It's Okay To Cry, lead single and first track on Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, is that Los Angeles-based Scottish producer, singer, songwriter and DJ Sophie seems to take the opposite approach. The story being told is very specific, but has intriguing gaps: who is this person to Sophie, what was on the page of the magazine they were reading? In a microcosm, this represents the subversion of popular music norms that runs through her debut album.
OIL OF EVERY PEARL's UN-INSIDES is a record of heightened contrasts; fleeting droplets of silence and crystalline, susceptible vocals interjecting the draconian onslaught of pads, synths, and kick drums. Naturally, this is demarcated by emotional contrasts, by skeletal, agonised vulnerability and empowering self-possession; the latter incarnated in OIL's cover art. Juxtaposition is hardly an original artistic mode, but executed effectively it's one of the most moving.
Modern pop music is rife with ultra-clear production and the most earwormy melodies and choruses. There are, however, certain artists who take the central tenets of pop music and subsequently push, warp and utterly mangle them into only referential recognition. If Oneohtrix Point Never's impression is heady and measured, SOPHIE's is an uninhibited dopamine rush. Bubblegum pop at its most extreme, SOPHIE pushes every moment of adolescent innocence into the realms of naïveté, and every moment of innuendo into hyper-sexualized raunch ….
Since 2013, SOPHIE has carved out an instantly identifiable musical vernacular based on synthesized bubble sounds, brash treble, deep bass, and distended, anonymous vocals. Listening to early singles like "Lemonade" or "Vyzee" could be a disorienting (and thrilling) experience, because SOPHIE's music sounded like a latex-coated version of radio pop: It followed many of the same rules that governed the mainstream, but all the textures were too taut, too perfect, too unreal. But in the self-directed music video for "It's Okay to Cry," SOPHIE appeared in front of the lens of a camera and introduced an element of vulnerability to her work.
The worlds of commercial pop and electronic music have never converged in quite the way they have with SOPHIE. In her solo productions, she is a daring and innovative artist who calls Autechre her heroes--a claim easily backed up by her avant-garde style of composition and sound design. And yet, in the years since she first appeared on the independent dance labels Numbers and Huntleys + Palmers, SOPHIE's moved to Los Angeles, joined the roster at Roc Nation (a talent agency founded by Jay-Z) and made some brazenly commercial moves.
This is an album that interrogates the nature of pop music as much as it embodies it Taking stock of left-field pop music from the last five years - from the polarising pitch-shifts of south London label PC Music to the abrasive grinding-gears of Madonna's 'Bitch I'm Madonna' - one producer has loomed large as an influence over the whole lot. Emerging at a similar time to Danny L Harle, Hannah Diamond and the rest of the PC Music rabble (while also remaining slightly detached from the whole scene), SOPHIE started out making effervescent, hyper-glossy music that both parodied and embraced the diamante-studded musical mayhem of noughties pop. When early single 'Bipp' crunked into existence in 2013, its lurching, pitch-shifting production was unlike anything else out there.
Since her debut single in 2013, Scottish sound sculptor Sophie has emerged as quite possibly the most important, boundary-destroying producer of the last decade. Early singles like "Bipp," "Lemonade" and her co-production on QT's "Hey QT" were packaged as "pop" songs, but were actually exercises in anonymous avant-garde cartoon chipmunk bubblegum replete with stark retro-future noise, slurps and swoops in the uncanny valley and wet noises that felt too close for comfort. Cool stuff for a buzzy Soundcloud sensation, surely, but the real coup was getting pop music to bend towards her warped vision.
On the other hand, the mere mention of trans people can set off a flurry of obnoxious pronoun 'corrections' and jokes about identifying as an attack helicopter on any given social media platform. That's before the harassment and systemic inequality trans people face all over the non-virtual world. It all puts added pressure on trans people - already under a searing spotlight as it is - to succeed on their own terms.
PC Music acolyte SOPHIE has always been more concerned with texture and consumerism than melody and emotion, so it's startling that 'It's Okay To Cry', the opening track from her debut album, features naked candidness. Instead of abrasive crunching, we get a moving tale of self- acceptance and pride set over fluttering synths. It seems that SOPHIE has taken on her most challenging project yet: her true self.
Many of us, myself included, often forget the term “pop” encompasses far more than the Madges, Britneys, or Fifth Harmony’s of the industry. Pop music takes the trends and sounds of the day and channels them into something consumable, but perhaps more importantly, something inescapable. Sophie Xeon, simply known as Sophie, understands how to do this very well.
Sometimes it's hard to figure out how Scottish musician Sophie really feels about pop music. Do her hectic compositions -- at times overwhelming, maximalist, overheated; at others pitilessly deconstructed, unspooling, spare to the point of collapse -- betray a figure sneering at pop, its artifice, its diachronic attachment to commerce, its confident claim on human truths? Or one celebrating it, revelling in its accessibility, its position as a site of intercultural exchange, its dependable methods of provoking emotional responses? If she does have a goal in mind, it's a canonical one -- either to push the language of pop beyond its current limits or dismantle it wholesale. Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, the follow-up to 2015's Product, is Sophie's latest stride towards whatever frenetic musical techno-future it is that she envisions, and the latest demonstration of her language: a vernacular of pounding kicks, human voices processed into oblivion, uncomfortable squishing noises, revving engines and clattering metal.